I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.
As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.
Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains terpene, a volatilehydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.
This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:
The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.
What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.
Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”
If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:
New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life. The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment. So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences. I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are. I surfed the web and here is what I found:
Learn a new skill or hobby
Live life to the fullest
Save more money / spend less money
Spend more time with family and friends
Here’s what else I found: It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point. Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions. And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions? I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment. When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:
Most People are not content with their lives. In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives. According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions. This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%.
Every human heart longs for contentment. Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.
But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life? And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life? Does that sound good to you? But wait! There’s more.
What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested? Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make. Want to know what it is? Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30
27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this: Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel! “Oh, is that all it is preacher? Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics? I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel! Thanks for nothing!”
And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel. We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving. And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel. But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do.
The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us. It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us. It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ. We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection! We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct. But remember Paul didn’t write in English. He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word: Live As Citizens of Heaven.
This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace. And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength. And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse. For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us! Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.
And this process is found in ONE: One Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret. And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year. So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?
It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day. The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit. And here’s The1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message: Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit.
Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit. What Is Your Spirit? The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.” And it is, but I want you to go deeper. Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process. And this is the real problem. Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit. Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained. Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit: One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart! So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.
And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions. He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit. Here is how to develop this One Spirit.
1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace
Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace! And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace? Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace: hungering and thirsting. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled.
It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God. It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray. It is about all that God offers. And trust that God will provide His grace. When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God. When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God. And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.
2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion
Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material. Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily. But that’s not Devotion. The Dictionary Defines Devotion As: Profound Dedication. It is moving your life in the direction of God. This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to. Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion. If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football. If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self. Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence. It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere. Make God your greatest passion.
3. Live With Total Determination
It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight. It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough. Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome. To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About.
It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin. But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross. Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life. Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him.
Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are. So here’s your Next Steps:
Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible. Begin with Philippians
Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
And they are OFF TO THE RACES! All those people who have determined that this year is going to be different! New gym memberships by the boatload. New weight loss memberships by the truckload. Downloads of fitness and weight loss apps by the tens of thousands. A New Year and A New You, proclaims the self-help gurus. Just buy this book; pay for that monthly webinar; subscribe to the other life-coach and YOU WILL SEE A DIFFERENT YOU! Yeah…right…pardon my sarcastic look right now.
It seems that there are still those who think that the purpose of a New Year is so that they can make some resolutions that, when followed, will make them better…make them happier…make them contented. So they Google and Google about how to make realistic Resolutions. Then they Google some more about Steps To Take To Keep Those Resolutions. All this with the Illusion that 2020 is really going to be different for them. Add that this marks the beginning of a new decade–the Illusion gains strength.
REALITY CHECK! Most resolutions are broken the first week; or at best, in the first month. And the rare person who actually keeps those resolutions for the whole year? If they are honest with themselves, they will admit their resolutions didn’t really change them. I not convinced that there are any who keep all their resolutions–It’s a myth, I say! A MYTH! So on January 1, 2021 they will get back on the hamster wheel and make it squeak even louder.
Well, can you? The Truth is that no amount of resolutions can really make lasting changes in you. There is only one Source where this can happen in my life, your life, anyone’s life and everyone’s life. It is the place that is resisted and that’s why so many keep spinning the hamster wheel and making it squeak. That Place is at the foot of the Cross where we surrender to the truth that we are all screwed-up sinners and utterly incapable of changing our reality.
Not only does it take surrender, but it also requires something harder–SUBMISSION TO GOD! Many want to submit to God–but on their terms. That’s not submission–it’s a negotiation and God doesn’t NEGOTIATE! If you really want to be more than a better person–if you really want to become a DIFFERENT PERSON you don’t need more resolutions. We all need Transformation! Transformation happens only 1 way–by surrendering and submitting to the only one who knows who you can become when you stop trying to allow others, or even yourself, to define who you are. Read this next part slowly (I’m typing it slowly to help you read it slowly:)
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?
Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.
And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:
14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!
Continue then, to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
To refresh your memory, this series is about becoming How To Change The Culture!. Hopefully last week we learned that in order
for God to use us To Change The Culture,
we have to become the weakest of the weakest.
One thing that hit me is that we often operate with
the mindset that we can Change The Culture and the church by Working
Through God. Allow me to explain
what that means: Working Through God Means
We Take Our Ideas And Our Plans And Our Beliefs And Expect God To Bless It And
The Church is designed a different way. Rather Than Us Working Through God, The Kingdom
Is Designed For God To Work Through Us.
I know this is a subtle difference, but can you see the difference?
It would not be Gideon doing this through God, but God doing it through Gideon. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he describes our relationship as He being the vine and we becoming the branches. It’s About Yielding To The Presence, Power, And Purposes Of God. The flow is from the Vine going into the Branches. Fruit is produced because of what the Vine is putting into the branches. The branches don’t tell the vine what to do. The Vine defines what the branches do.
Today Gideon shows us the next step in becoming
qualified for the God Sized Purpose in life.
Let’s look pick up the reading in Judges
Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me,
show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. Don’t go away until I come back and bring my
offering to you.” He answered, “I will
stay here until you return.” Gideon
hurried home. He cooked a young goat,
and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast. Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the
broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was
under the great tree.
The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the
unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat
and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the
rock and consumed all he had brought.
And the angel of the Lord disappeared.
When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the
Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to
face!” “It is all right,” the Lord
replied. “Do not be afraid. You will not die.” And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there
and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of
the clan of Abiezer to this day.
That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second
bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old. Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and
cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.
Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary,
laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice
the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the
Asherah pole you cut down.” So Gideon
took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at
night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and
the people of the town.
Early the next morning, as the people of the town
began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down
and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down. In their place a new altar had been built,
and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed. The people said to each other, “Who did this?” And after asking around and making a careful
search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash.
“Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of
Joash. “He must die for destroying the
altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.” But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted
him, “Why are you defending Baal? Will
you argue his case? Whoever pleads his
case will be put to death by morning! If
Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down
his altar!” From then on Gideon was
called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down
God has informed Gideon that he has been chosen to Change
The Culture and that He, God, is with him and that He would fight for
Gideon. Now we come to Gideon’s
response. Every time we encounter God
requires a response from us. It is the
nature of the Divine Encounter. Even if
we think we’ve made no response, we have made a response. There’s no way around it. We either grow deeper into that relationship
or we go further away from that relationship.
And growing deeper inevitably requires taking action.
And here is the one thing you need to remember from
today’s message: Before The Culture Of This Nation And Our Tribe Can Change,
You Must Change Your Culture.
I have parable for you this morning. There are 5 frogs sitting on a log. 3 of them decide to jump. How many frogs do you have left? Is your answer 2? 5-3=2.
Is your answer 0, because if one frog jumps, then all the others will
join? Are you ready for the answer?
The answer is 5! How did I arrive at that answer? Easy.
I never said they jumped, just that they made a decision. And here is where the church is at today: We Haven’t Taken The Leap Of Faith Into
The God-Sized Purpose Of Changing Our Culture.
With the assurance of His presence and the promise of
His power, Gideon acts. But notice the
way he acts. He doesn’t get his sword
and round up an army. He doesn’t go
looking for a fight.
The truth is that his first response has nothing to do
with the problem of the Midianites. It
deals with His Own Personal Culture.
And here’s the first lesson about accepting the mission of this
God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture:
To make sure he has heard everything right, Gideon
asks if it’s appropriate to offer worship.
I can just see God in heaven. He
smiled when Gideon said, “I’m too weak!”
And when Gideon asks for permission to worship first, God did more than
smile. He danced! Those end zone dances you see in the NFL are
nothing compared to when God dances.
So off Gideon goes to prepare the sacrifice for
worship. He cooks a young goat and makes
unleavened bread with an ephah of flour, that’s what the KJV says. An ephah of flour is over a half a
bushel. A young goat and a loaf of bread
made from over a half a bushel of flour.
Don’t you get what’s happening?
Remember the first half of this chapter.
Most of their crops have been destroyed along with their flocks and herds.
They are reduced to starvation. But Gideon takes a young goat and a half a
bushel of flour and with that, he worships God.
He’s not offering God something out of his abundance.
He’s offering God what is probably the bulk if not all
that he has in worship. Worship Is
About Surrender—Surrendering All That We Have And Are To God. There are 168 Hours In A Week and many think
that because they spend 1 hour out of 168 in a sanctuary on Sunday that they
have worshipped God. Time spent in this
sanctuary amounts to .59% Of Your Week.
A little over a half a percent.
Now, would you consider that an acceptable offering to
God? If God is going to Change The
Culture of our nation and tribe through us, then worship needs to be an
offering of our best—our time, our heart, our energy. It must be your heart every moment you are
awake; the attitude we carry in the home, to work, to shopping, to everywhere! Worship is about keeping focus on the Presence,
Power And Purposes of God.
When Gideon offers this worship, look at what the
angel says: Put the meat and bread on
the rock, and then pour out the broth on it.
Now, for Gideon’s world this was ridiculous. Gideon could have protested, “Look, I slaved
over this meal and this is perfectly good soup.” But he doesn’t. He does exactly what he is told. The angel took his staff and touched the
offering and fire came from the rock and consumed it all.
Here’s the Lesson that seems to have been forgotten by so many: We Provide The Instruments For Worship, But Only God Provides The Fire. The angel disappeared and Gideon knows he’s been in God’s presence and thinks “Well, I cooked the goat, but now my goose is cooked!”. But God speaks to Gideon words filled with hope. God’s voice doesn’t boom out from heaven, but in a gentle way God says, “Don’t Be Afraid!” And this leads us to the second thing you must understand about accepting this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture.
2. Gideon’s Culture
Changed Because Gideon Was Changed First.
He names that place Yahweh Shalom—God Is Peace! Before Gideon could change the culture of his
nation, he needed to Change His Own Culture. Gideon had been afraid and blaming God. But now Gideon’s heart has been changed. Even with the fear and all the questions he
had, Gideon learns a most important lesson:
He Learns To Trust God.
In that trust he discovers the Peace Of God. We are not going to change our nation by
forwarding emails and signing petitions or gripping about our leaders. The Process Of Change Begins With Us. God changed TheCulture but He
started with Gideon.
God can and God will change Our Culture, but it
starts with the person you see in the mirror.
Now Gideon is in a position for God to use him. And God goes right to work using Gideon. And here is the third a final lesson today
about being qualified for the God-Sized Task:
3. Gideon Had
To Cut Down His Asherah Pole.
What’s an Asherah Pole? Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility. She was the wife of the god known as
Baal. She was the one they were thinking
could bring fertility to the ground—abundant crops—multiply livestock—and cause
their wife to produce a lot of children.
These were all signs of prosperity and strength.
The more crops one had, the more livestock and kids
one had, the more they thought they were strong. They believed their strength came from the
As Long As They Thought Their Strength Came From The Asherah
Pole, The Asherah Pole Held Them In Prison And Bondage.
So Gideon goes out to do it, but at night. Why at night?
Because he’s afraid of what the others might do to him. Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well,
there goes Gideon the Coward again!” But
there’s another way to look at this:
Even though Gideon still has some fear issues in his life, it doesn’t keep him from doing what God wants, and as you will see, it will not disqualify him from what God is yet to do. The results are the same. If you allow fear of this God-Sized task keep you from doing anything, God cannot use you to change The Culture.
The Asherah Pole had to come down before he went into battle against the Midianites. Why? So that no one would think their strength came from the Asherah Pole, but only from God. Before They Could Set The Nation Free, They Had To Be Free.
And what about your Asherah Pole? Asherah Poles are all around us today. Oh, they don’t look like the Asherah Poles of Gideon’s day, but they are just as real. What is your Asherah Pole? Idols are still present today, they just look different.
Is your Asherah Pole the desire to be comfortable? Is your Asherah Pole the desire for
convenience? Is your Asherah Pole what
you consider important? Is your Asherah
Pole contentment with complaining and doing nothing, but complain? Is your Asherah Pole fear? Anger?
Despair? Selfishness? Apathy?
Do what Gideon does:
Cut It Down And Put It On God’s Altar. God cannot use you to Change The Culture
of this nation and church until you cut down your Asherah Pole. But if you will, God will Change You, Then
Change Your Culture And In Changing Your Culture, He Will Change The Culture.
Last week you were given a choice for your next
step. Join up with all the complaining;
or give up that anything will ever change; or step up and become the next
Gideon. Here’s this week’s Next Step
1. You Can Hold
On To That Idol, Whatever It May Be. OR
2. Cut Down The
Asherah Poles In Your Life. Get rid of
those things that are holding power over you.
Your confidence and strength comes from your relationship with God—a
relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.
Today it’s the story of Esther. It’s around 470 BC in Persia. King Xerxes is throwing a wild party for the
leading men of his nation. On a drunken
whim, the king orders his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself before
all his guests. She refuses, creating
panic among the men: What if their wives
heard about it and followed her example? Terrified at the prospect of such a thing,
they convince the king to get rid of Queen Vashti. But the king gets lonely. Seeing his misery, the king’s advisors devise
a plan. They will host a beauty pageant, gathering the most dazzling women from
the kingdom, so the king can have “the pick of the litter”. Enter Esther!
Esther’s cousin Mordecai encourages her to enter the
Beauty Pageant. But he wants her to hide
something important—that she is a Jew—numbered among the people of God. If the promoters of this beauty pageant find
out she’s a Jew, they won’t ever consider her.
And he was right in that analysis.
If she wants to win the king’s favor, it will come at the price of
hiding who she really is. She’ll have to
act just like everyone else. And we know
Something happens, though, to throw all of this into
jeopardy. It happens because of Mordecai’s resolve to be God’s Person. There is a man in the kingdom named Haman, who
is second in command to King Xerxes. That’s
a lot of power, but it’s never enough for men like Haman.
He not only wants power; he wants others to flatter
him, and inflate his already oversized ego. That’s Haman—powerful, insecure, and a threat.
Whenever he passes by, everyone must bow
down to him in an elaborate tribute. But
there’s Mordecai—so insistent that Esther conceals her true identity—decides
this business with Haman has gone on long enough. It was time to stand up and be counted. Mordecai refuses to bow down.
Haman is furious with his actions and he hatches a
plot. He goes to King Xerxes and informs
him of a people—God’s people—who are causing problems. He convinces the king that it’s in the king’s
best interests to completely annihilate them by genocide. He even offers to finance the project! Without blinking an eye, the king gives a nod
of approval. Posters are soon plastered
all over the kingdom, saying: Kill all
the Jews—young and old, women and children—on March 7 next year. When Mordecai hears the news, he does what
any good Jew would do—he repents.
He puts on sackcloth and covers himself with ashes—the
clothing and gestures of repentance, and goes through the city, weeping and crying.
Why offer repentance? Hasn’t the wrong
been done by Haman? Mordecai repents
because he knows he has wronged God by trying to hide. To borrow the words of James 4:4,
Mordecai realizes that “If you want to be a friend of the world, you
make yourself an enemy of God.”
When Esther hears about her cousin’s behavior, she is concerned.
She doesn’t care what’s going on; she just wants him to stop it. She sends him a message to stop it. But Mordecai refuses to turn away from his
repentance. So she sends another
message. Let’s pick up the story in Esther 4:13-17
13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who Knows If Perhaps You Were Made Queen For Just Such A Time As This?” 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Esther 4:13-17 (NLT) (emphasis mine)
At the risk of racing through this amazing story, let me sum it up quickly. She gets her opportunity and invites both Haman and the king to 2 special banquets. Haman is delighted—proud and puffed up to know he is the only person chosen to attend the gathering alongside the king. His spirits are quickly cooled because he saw Mordecai again and again he refused to bow down before Haman. When he came home, he was complaining to his wife and family, “I’m the only one invited to the banquet the Queen has prepared for the King, and this, this heathen Mordecai dishonors me.” So, his wife suggests he erect a tall pointed pole and impale Mordecai on it. Well, Haman is happy again. Haman thinks life is good again.
But the King couldn’t sleep the night before the
banquet, so he had some servants read to him from the archives of his life as
King. I don’t know if he was wanting his
ego stroked or if he thought the reading would be so boring he would fall
asleep. But then he hears about how a
Jew named Mordecai had saved his life by revealing an assassination plot.
Then he found out he had never properly recognized Mordecai for this, so he decides to honor him. What happens next is pure irony—God is the Master of Irony! The King sees Haman who is about to ask permission to kill Mordecai, and asks Haman how should someone really special be honored. Haman, thinking it’s himself the King wants to honor says, “Give him one of your royal robes, give him one of your horses to ride and have a parade to tell everyone how wonderful this man is (wink-wink).” The king says, “Great idea! Go get Mordecai ready for the parade, and you lead the parade telling everyone what a great man Mordecai is.”
This humiliates Haman, but that evening it gets
worse. Esther then pleads for her
people’s lives and reveals Haman’s evil plot and this angers the king. Xerxes storms out, Haman falls on Esther’s couch
to ask for mercy just when the King comes back in. He gets the wrong idea, and has Haman impaled
on the same pole he had built for Mordecai.
Since the King cannot undo his decree to have the Jews killed, he gives another decree—they can defend themselves and their families. Mordecai is then promoted to Haman’s position. Let’s see if we can learn why The 21st Century Church needs a Change of Direction and Change of Heart, For Such A Time As This:
1. We Are Living In A Time Of Moral Confusion.
If I or any preacher were to say: “We are living in a time of immorality!”,
there would be a loud echo of “AMEN!”
And we could cite instance after instance of why this would be true. No doubt about it, immorality is in
overabundance. But I’m not
so convinced the real issue of our culture is the immorality—as much as it is
the Moral Confusion which exists. The Crisis of our culture is the way it
The word definition of morality is simple: “It Is
The Principles That Mark The Distinction Between Right And Wrong Or Good And Bad
Behavior.” Our culture
defines morality in contextual ways, rather than by Truth. Here’s what I am trying to say. Our culture defines right and wrong based
on context, on the setting. If it’s OK in one setting, then it’s not
And it’s frustrating for us who identify as followers of Jesus. Our culture needs to see a Morality, of what is good or bad, right or wrong, in us. I’m not talking about is it right or wrong to have a drink or divorce or the lottery or cut grass on Sunday—I’m talking about us living a full and joyful life by the standard God has given us.
You and I are born for such a time as this—To Show How Meaningful Life Is When We Live It By God’s Standard. This Chaos Is Alienating People—And We Can Be The Ones God Uses To End This Chaos.
Without a solid foundation to define morality—the end result is that instability of character within people’s lives. The Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary defines Character this way:
“The Way Someone Thinks, Feels, And Behaves; A Set Of Qualities That Are Shared By Many People In A Group; A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.
Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary
Focus on that last
part: A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other
Places Or Things. The
instability of our culture is the direct result of the lack of being different
from other places and things. Most
people don’t follow Jesus say that it’s because they don’t like the church.
And when they ask what the church is, they identify us
by things we are against. Character of heart and life isn’t measured by
just what we are against—it is measured more by what we are for.
Watch the news, look at Washington D.C., look at what’s happening in the streets. It’s not the fault of the Democrats, nor the Republicans. It’s the despair that’s fueling all of it. No one sees or senses any hope for anything better. So they argue and fight and point the finger of blame. They become fearful and angry at each other.
because of the absence of one thing:
Hope! Democrats can’t create hope. Republicans can’t create hope. Socialists can’t create hope. Government can’t create hope. And the hate, anger and frustrations of the
people can’t create hope. These only
intensify the despair. Hope is
It’s the failure of so many in churches who have either forgotten, or never understood, That WE Have Been Born, WE Have Been REBORN For Such A Time As This. Despair is ripping apart the fabric of our nation and world.
We Need A Recalculating Moment To See That We Are Born And Reborn For Such A Time As This. To Bring Moral Clarity, Lasting Character And Living Hope.
A Day Comes When We’ve Got To Stand, Be Counted, And
Fight To Proclaim What We’ve Been Entrusted With. Today Is That Day.
We should know we will never win a pagan culture by mimicking it and all it values. The strongest influence we can bring in these chaotic and desperate times is to simply be peculiar—to be, with neither pride nor apology, followers of Jesus.
Our call, God’s vision for this place, will reveal the
character of Jesus—a character saturated with love, mercy, grace and
compassion—a character that just doesn’t point out what’s wrong with others,
but sees their hurts and their needs—a character that does more than see their
needs, but does something to meet those needs.
Your Next Steps is to accept these 3
truths and live them out:
1. The People Of God Do Not Succeed In A Pagan World By Hiding Their True Identity.
2. You Can Win Admiration By Conforming To The Standards Of The Age, But It Will Take You Further Away From Having A Heart For God.
3. We Have An Enemy Who Is Out To Destroy Us, And No Amount Of Hiding Will Save Us.
Did you catch Mordecai’s last warning to Esther?
“Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, Help And Deliverance Will Arrive For The Jews From Someplace Else; but you and your family will be wiped out.”
God is at work bringing help and deliverance to this vast spiritual wasteland. The issue for you and for all of us, will it be through some other people, or will we rise For Such A Time As This?
When most attend a seminar, conference or retreat they usually say, “Well, this is what I learned.” Notice the grammatical tense of that word. It’s in the past tense. I know my high school English teachers At Mrs. Weir and Mrs. Pettus would be shocked that I remembered anything from their lessons. And I have been guilty of using that word “have learned”, that the lessons are in the past tense of my life.
But one of the many, many, many things God has been teaching this “getting older” man is that while life has a “past tense” it also has a “present” and a “future” tense. Here is a nugget that God has been teaching me these past few years. Lessons that we learn about Him and our relationship with Him are not to remain in the past existing as a memory. These lessons are to be a continual part of this Journey in Grace. Thus the title of this morning’s blog: What I AM Discovering (notice the tense) At New Room 2018.
Most of these lessons are direct quotes or my shorthand version of those quotes from this incredible group of Holy Spirit Led and Empowered Speakers. This list is by no means, everything I am discovering. And if history repeats itself, as I’m sure it will, there will be even more discoveries come to my mind in this Journey In Grace:
There are too many loose ties and not enough strong bonds in most churches today.
There are things that happen when God’s People get together with Jesus in the lead, that would otherwise never happen.
God does the work, but He does it through us. It’s time to get our hands dirty.
It’s not about trying to get God to abide in us–He’s already abiding–but it’s about getting US to abide in HIM!
Being a Christian is all about entering into THEIR Relationship–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and NOT about getting them to enter into OUR relationship.
There are some things in our life that happen only because of our relationship with Jesus. And there are some things that will never happen in us if we are not in a relationship with Him.
Revival is more than goosebumps and excitement, but a driven passion and holy obsession in us.
When Jesus shows up, life happens!
Stop making excuses for doing nothing. We have the King of Kings on our side and the Holy Spirit living in us!
Jesus left heaven for us. It’s time we leave our stuff for Jesus! (Maybe my favorite quote!)
Find the broken. Church ain’t the church unless it is reaching out into the community! (OK, maybe this is my favorite quote!)
We need to ask God to break our hearts with what breaks His heart.
Fire in a home without a fireplace will do harm. A fireplace in a home without fire is pointless. We need The Fire or we are pointless!
There is no greater tragedy than a sick church in a dying world. (Leonard Ravenhill)
The Holy Spirit transcends human ability and transforms human inabilities!
It is wrong to think that the Bible contains the Holy Spirit. The Bible constrains us. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained anywhere.
If Jesus in human flesh needed the Holy Spirit, we especially need the Holy Spirit!
When the church stops being the church we will die and become a monument to what God used to do rather than the movement of what God is doing.
You do what you from your passion. The church today has stopped doing out of its passion and replaced passion with a boring religious obligation.
God shouts to His enemies, but whispers to His friends.
Oh, this ain’t all of it. But just some of the things the Spirit impressed on me to share with you readers. Somewhere in these “nuggets” is a truth that some reader urgently needs to hear. And remember….
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Well, time for my daily class assignment: What did you learn yesterday? As the day began I was looking forward to it. But now? I admit that it is a bit more difficult than I imagined. Has that ever happened to you? Something you thought you could do, easily do, but out of nowhere it became difficult. Truthfully….I don’t like difficult. Thinking about what to write was as blank as this graphic. So what does one do when preparing for test time? You review your notes.
Set up the beach canopy–check! Cooler with drinks–check! Beach towels–check! Beach chairs set up–check! Bag with snacks–check! Reading materials–check! Sunscreen and applied–check and check! Feet buried in the sand–check. What next? Sitting in the shade of the canopy, looking at the scene graciously provided for us by The Creator. Listening to the sounds of waves and birds. When we were a bit warm, going into the Gulf to cool off, floating on the gentle waves. Then a southerly breeze came in helping to keep us cool. A couple of naps between finishing that book.
Where’s the lesson? WHAT’S the lesson? What am I forgetting? And it finally hit me. There was that moment I realized my mind was totally blank. (Please, no comments from the monkey gallery!) And there were other moments when my mind was blank….cleansed from everything. No thoughts about writing, the churches, my Dad, my own grief from Mother’s recent death. My mind has been cleansed. Think of it as a computer reset. Cleansers–that’s the lesson.
There are cleansers for the face, microwaves, ovens, bathtubs, commodes, even this thing called a colon cleanse (now try to get that image out of your mind!). My Father knew what I needed on that day–for my mind to be completely cleansed–to set aside all my thoughts–just to be me in the presence of my King and Creator!
The blood of Jesus cleanses our hearts, but what can cleanse our minds? The mind is more complicated and delicate matter. A few sentences back I mentioned “colon cleanse”–how many of you still have that image in your mind? If we try to get some thought out of our mind, say a certain song or a colon cleanse, it only seems to linger and grow roots. And should we cleanse our minds of all thoughts, what will we replace them with?
I’m thinking about a story Jesus once told found in Matthew 12. A man seemed to have rid his mind and heart of a demon. The demon went looking for another home. Failing to find one, he returned to that man. Found the home of his heart and mind cleaned but unoccupied. So he goes and gets 7 buddies and moves right back in. And the point is??? Once your mind is cleansed, make very sure that it is immediately occupied with God’s presence.
When I had my mind cleanse, I did it intentionally in His Presence. The result was that He rearranged some thoughts and replaced others. Along with that process, He provided me with balance, perspective and wisdom. And I urgently needed that to happen. So when your thoughts overwhelm you, when you mind resembles that junk closet, take the time to be in His presence. No agenda, no asking, no searching for answers–just alone with Him. As you as prepare for this cleansing, and before you begin, make the decision to ask Him to sort it all out. Add this “cleansing” process to your regular spiritual disciplines. Allow it to be a part of your spiritual disciplines. Balance, perspective and wisdom–all are gifts found only in His presence.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Excuse me now, I hear the bell for the next class to begin. And I am ready for it, more than when this week began because I now have His balance, perspective and wisdom.
So far this has been a great Spiritual Summer Retreat. Some may call it a vacation, but for me, it’s been a time of refocusing on God in my life. Some of the things that have happened to me this year have been, well, challenging. Truthfully, I let some of those things get the best of me. My life has been off-kilter. So God is using this time for me to get my “kilter” back.
This morning got me to thinking about The Tide. No, not the greatest College Football Dynasty ever, but the “other” Tide. No! Not the laundry detergent either! The ocean tide is a lesson I’ve been rediscovering in this time of retreat. I am not certain John Wesley would agree with me, but the beach is a means of grace for me.
The Tide happens every day because the water is being influenced by outside forces. Technically, it’s being influenced by a single source, gravity. And the gravity that affects the Tide comes from 2 sources. Do you know that they are? Did you guess the moon? Very good class. Now, what’s the other source of gravity? Did you say the sun? Correctamundo!
The Tide in a particular area is determined by its position in relation to both the moon and the sun. This gravitational pull determines whether the Tide is high or low. And these gravitational forces come from outside our planet. It is a force that is unseen, yet it produces a noticeable effect. And here’s the lesson that this Tide is teaching me.
We are under the gravitational pull of another influence; whether we realize or not. This force impacts how we think, what we say, what we do, and even why we do it. They change the shape and direction of our life. Either for good–and unfortunately–for bad. Think back to the effect of the ocean Tide. The ocean tides have a positive impact on marine life. It also determines the best time for fishermen to catch fish. And who doesn’t love a good seafood dinner?
But unlike the oceans that have no choice but to be affected by gravity, we do have a choice. Remember that the ocean Tide is influenced at one time by the sun, and at a different time by the moon–it all depends on their location. We choose which gravitational pull influences us–in any and all situations of life. We all face situations which we did not cause–but our response to that situation–it is influenced by which outside source of power we live under.
Allow your life to be under the “gravitational pull” of the Holy Spirit. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:5 (NLT)
Those who are dominated (think about the tide) by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled (think about the gravitational forces on the oceans) by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.
More than thinking about the things that please the Spirit, it is about the impact of those thoughts and how they change the ways we think, speak, act, and why we do what we do. That’s called MOTIVE. Like the oceans are being influenced by the power of gravity from either the sun or the moon (and never both at the same moment), you are being influenced by some power that determines your journey. Unlike the oceans that have no choice, you do have a choice. And remember that line from the climatic scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”–“Choose wisely!”
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Now excuse me, but the classroom beckons me. I wonder what the Tide is doing?
Tomorrow the moving truck and crew arrive. Well, no more trips to the curb. This morning was pick-up day, and managed to get it all out there with 15 minutes to spare. Timing is everything as they say. Packed some more. The Moving Supervisor, that’s my wife, informed me that I needed to take some clothes to the cleaners, and go to the liquor store–to get more boxes–come on now, quit thinking the worst. While at the liquor store she calls and says I need to go buy some bigger boxes. I still have some more to pack up. While running those errands, I tuned in one of the local Country and Western stations. Last few days I’ve gone back to my roots in my choice of music.
While listening to the radio, I heard a song I haven’t heard in years: “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”. What caught my attention with the song was what one of our grandson’s did when he was about 4, I think. He was in Pre-K at the church he and his family attend. In addition to education skills, they taught Faith Lessons. Well, the teacher asked the Preacher’s Grandkid to ask the blessing at lunch. With the room quiet, heads bowed, Ethan said, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy. Amen.”
Back home I needed to do some touch up painting in one of the rooms. Then it was time to go to the dentist because I needed a cleaning and I had lost a filling and a cracked tooth. Ain’t that a hoot! Coming back home from the dentist, the Moving Supervisor sent me on a mission to Wal-Mart. Oh, how I hate going to Wal-Mart. Back home, ate lunch, then moving boxes as they were filled. Oh, I put my 2 hunting rifles in their cases to protect them. They will be going with me, not the movers.
Tomorrow morning the movers will arrive and these stacks of boxes will be no more. So what lessons did I learn today?
I learned that there are always places in my heart and life that need “touching-up”. By touching up, I mean that I have places in my heart that need some work. And the work must be done by the Holy Spirit, after all, He gave me this new heart. We had paint left-over when the rooms were painted, so it was easy to match it up. I need the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to work on my blemishes.
I learned that self-care is necessary. The trip to the dentist was long overdue. I am good at taking care of others, but not so good at taking care of myself. I must do a better job at that–after the move is completed, of course.
You can’t prevent the inevitable. Ready or not, the movers will be here in the morning. Once decisions are made, there will be an inevitable outcome. Best we could do today is to be ready now for that tomorrow. Every decision, every choice, every act has consequences. Sometimes things are done to us by others and consequences are forced upon us. However, we can see them as learning moments or we can fight against them. Fighting is a losing battle.
Vision needs to be handled care. The scopes on my hunting rifles are set for me. If they get bumped about or mishandled, they may get out of alignment, and I would hate to know that the first time I go hunting. So I take care of them. And the vision that comes from God needs to also be handled with care. If we get bumped around or “mishandled”, our vision could be out of focus.
Memories are a part of life. This was the big one for me today. When I thought about Ethan’s blessing at a Christian Pre-K, it hit me. In life, memories are created–both good and bad ones. Now each day we should focus on making good memories with the people we encounter. But there are situations and people who create bad memories. And we have a choice–focus on the bad memories or the good ones. I choose to focus on the good one. The bad memories will just eat you alive. And I admit that when I heard “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, I laughed out loud and smiled.
Well, it’s time to wind down the day. Tune in tomorrow for the next Episode of The Moving Journal-Day 7. Say, “Good night, John Boy”. Good night John Boy.
Well, here we are at the end of this semester. I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans. I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question: How Do You Get Into Heaven? Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans. So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven? Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some. If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart: How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God? With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:
We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan: To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now! And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens: Be Born Again
Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian? This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy. It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again. If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian. You don’t have to say it both ways. Here’s a diamond of Truth: You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again. Not now—not ever! But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!
This was the source of confusion for Nicodemus. Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means? Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought. And this is the one thing you need to remember today: You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again! We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people. Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.
None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again. So, how are we born again? It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.
1. WeDie! Die to all that you have been. If it’s your goodness, then die. If it’s your sense of failures, die. If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die. If it’s your fears, die. Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God. Philippians 3:8-9—
8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God. This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.
2. Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God. Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives. But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.
Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.
This is what repentance means and looks like. We turn away from that old life and into the new Life. We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do. You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward. What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.
3. Be Born By The Spirit. The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life. It’s the only power for people who are Born Again. People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.
2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)—They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power. Stay away from people like these!
This is what walking by faith means. This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God. You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit. This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you. It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam. Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3
How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again. The Final Exam has only 2 questions:
1. Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away? Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?
2. Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost? It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.
Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world. At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher: PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!
And remember…love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY He loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!
(This post is for those I wounded last week. I am truly sorry.)
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him.16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)
We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions. Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death. So today we often ignore and disregard their questions. But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention. Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter. And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.
Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment. Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger. It was deep and intimate, even sacred. Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments. And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories. But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table. Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME? Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment? Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening. Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.
Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
We become overly obsessed with our feelings
We put others down for our own reasons. Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners. Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
We make poor choices in our life
We do not consider the consequences of those choices
When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
We manipulate people for our own ends
We allow labels to become our sole identity
We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
We ignore what matters the most
We close our eyes to the needs around us
We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
We put blame on the doorstep of others
We smear the good name of others
We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
We give in to our lustful desires
We point out the problems without offering solutions
We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________
I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus. I fail Him more times than I care to admit. I mess things up. I assume. I forget. I become careless. I surrender to the wrong things. I fail to fight the right things. I am sitting at Levi’s table. And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners. Laughing at our jokes and telling his own. Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table? I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself. Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.
And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?” Or am I pointing my own finger at me? (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.) “Why, Jesus, why? Why me? Why now? Can’t you see what a mess I am? I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I am a man of unclean lips! Why are you smiling at me? Why? Why? Why? Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless. I’m a failure!” But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread? Here, let me refill that cup.”
More bread? Refill the cup? Me????? Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry. I could, I should–I ought to run away now! “Run, Randy, Run!” My hands are shaking as I take the bread. My legs are shaking as I take that cup. Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse. So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus. I just don’t understand, why? I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess. I feel like this failure is final and fatal. Washed up and washed out. But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry. And that Cup has the finest wine ever. You should taste it. It is really good.”
Could it be true? Does Jesus still care about me? Dare HE forgive me? A fresh start? Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM? I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand. And I see it, clear as day–the Scar! It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross. I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?” He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore. In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar. I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy. And I’m just as proud of them, too.” Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why? Why Jesus? Why me?”
The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said. His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine. It really tastes great. None better, I tell you. If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.” That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.” I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back. They were tears of release. With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.
There was a flood of relief coming over me. Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later. And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question: “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?” Those disciples looked terrified. Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place? I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey! Why don’t you just ask Jesus? You cowards!” The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.
But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do. His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table. HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there. They don’t know what you know. Not yet, but they will, they will. Besides, I’ve got this. And about last week? If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too. Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”
“Guys, you are right. I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.” His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”. He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine. What will HE say? “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?” Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again. “Unlike some, they know they are sick. So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again. Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”
And as for me? I don’t have to ask why anymore. The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me. He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful. I should have trusted Him last week. I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.” But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.” Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…